Religious Connections

News and commentary on Religion, especially Southern religion.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Homophobia go the way of slavery in matters of faith?

The measured tone of Spokane, Washington, Bishop Blase Cupich's letter on the same-sex marriage referendum attracted the attention of Bold Faith Type. He stood firm on church teachings but, to his considerable credit, also said:

Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it.


I also want to be very clear that in stating our position the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.

At Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk gently suggests that the bishop take an additional step:

At the risk of seeming unappreciative, I would urge Cupich, sub specie rationis, to promise that if evidence for bad social consequences from SSM fails to materialize, he will cease urging his church's position on society at large. All that would be left at that point would be his religious convictions, and as I expect he would agree, these ought not be imposed on those outside his faith community.

After all, he writes, slavery was "a cornerstone of society" when the church was young. No more.

Indeed. The Southern Baptist Convention, originally formed in part around support of slavery, last week found itself chiding a Mississippi church which refused to host the wedding ceremony of a black couple. The church apologized and will presumably sin no more.

GOP Rep. West's Chick-fil-A slap in the face to the Congressional Black Caucus

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) pulled the Chick-fil-A chicken and biscuits stunt about six months ago but recent events brought it back to mind. Jennifer Bendery writes at Huffington Post

"We have a rotation in the Congressional Black Caucus where every member provides the lunch one of the weeks when we meet," Hastings said in a Monday interview. The lunches, he said, are often quite delicious.

"We have fried chicken. And we have catfish and BBQ. We do not have watermelon, although sometimes people will have fruit. We serve a full course meal with collard greens. We have Jamaican beans and rice," Hastings said. But West "sent Chick-fil-A with biscuits. Ok?"

"That was an 'in your face.' Every member of the Congressional Black Caucus that was there was offended," he said.

Asked more specifically why lawmakers were insulted, Hastings said it was because they saw West's actions as making a statement in support of the conservative views held by Chick-fil-A leaders. West is the only Republican member of the caucus.

Everyone, certainly including Rep. West, has a right to his opinion. Being taken seriously, not so much.

Abuse at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (and elsewhere)

Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer is right to assert that Jack Schapp was fired as pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, over sexual "abuse" of a teenage girl Not "adultery."

Technically, Schapp was fired for adultery and the FBI is investigating whether the girl was the legal age of consent, not just in Illinois but also Indiana. But the problem is predatory abuse of power, by the pastor.

The power differential between Schapp and his victim made consent effectively and in some states legally impossible:

... the church environment is remarkably well-suited to the needs of predators, who carry out a form of rape. Dr. Gary Schoener, Executive Director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis which serves both offenders and victims of clergy sexual abuse, told the St. Petersberg Times that “17 states see even adult relationships with priests as a type of statutory rape. The victim can’t possibly consent because the power relationship so clouds the issue.”

Stetzer focuses on the age difference and comes to the same conclusion:

A 54-year old pastor taking advantage, both sexually and emotionally, of a 16-year old girl goes far beyond the bounds of desecrating the marital bed and making immoral choices. This is a prime example of abusing the power and trust of an office. It was part of the problem at Penn State, and it is the problem in this situation.

Stetzer urges pastors to "speak up" about the abuse and in the comments Christa Brown takes him to task for saying and doing too little himself:

Southern Baptists have also had way too many child-sex-abuse and cover-up scandals among their clergy. The Southern Baptist track record is no better than the Independent Fundamental Baptists. There is a volunteer-compiled list of Southern Baptist scandals at StopBaptistPredators.

To Ed Stetzer and other Southern Baptists, I say this: Speaking up would be a start, but words are not nearly enough. You must implement cooperative denomination-wide clergy accountability systems similar to those that exist in other major faith groups and stop using “local church autonomy” as an excuse for denominational do-nothingness. Clean up your own faith group.

Stetzer is right (and Brown is right to in effect push it back at him) when he writes:

Those who justify enable more such scandals and endanger more children.

He cannot by that standard justify his failure to speak with equal force to the well-known Southern Baptist failure to protect children and others from abuse by pastors and church staff. It's an enduring national scandal. In 2008 the Southern Baptist Convention's refusal to create a central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors, was one of Time magazine's top ten underreported news stories of the year. They use church autonomy as an excuse for inaction, and the number of lives avoidably blighted by abuse grows and grows.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is clerical sexual abuse coded into the modern church's authority?

At The Immanent Frame, Mark Jordan of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis writes:

The possibility of authorizing abuse theologically follows too easily from the always exceptional status claimed for modern church power. In modern Catholic contexts, official languages often pretend to be exempt from qualification, questioning, or appeal. They are absolute languages. They function in a state of exception. When that rhetorical character is extended to traditional images of a masculinized God or angel who ravishes—rapes—souls that are gendered as feminine, then erotic domination seems to receive divine blessing. I’m not objecting to mystical writing. I’m pointing to a consequence of moving older mystical or liturgical languages into a modern system that endows some church speech with an incontestable and literal authority. Under a regime that claims divine exemption for its decrees, mustn’t erotic metaphors of divine domination sometimes seem to authorize sexual demands by priests? Turn the question around: imagine what you would have to change in present claims for church language to prevent the violent misapplication of old metaphors for God’s love.

Which brings me to the last rhetoric I want to mention: the homoerotic undertone of ecclesiastical obedience. The documents from the Meffan case are not homoerotic in the obvious sense—they are not about male-male or female-female abuse. They concern sexual acts between a man and girls or young women. But the male and female bodies here allow us to notice another level at which the homoerotic can appear in church speech. Take as an example Meffan’s letter to Cardinal Law, with its touches of studied obsequiousness, its acts of enticing submission. Those rhetorical gestures reveal desires sedimented in now standard forms of clerical power.

Jordan's analysis is a part of Immanent Frame's compelling series, Sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Wheaton sues (abortively) to strike abortion drug mandate (which it obeyed as an Illinois state mandate)

The Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Press and echoes like the North Carolina Biblical Reporter reported it last month when Illinois' Wheaton College joined Catholic groups in a lawsuit over an Affordable Care Act requirement that insurance plans cover birth control.

They have been silent about subsequent news that Wheaton cannot pursue this matter of evangelical conviction for a year because it has, perhaps since 2003, been providing insurance to faculty and staff that includes the contraceptive coverage over which it is in high legal dudgeon.

As Grant Gallico summarized it:

In order to qualify for safe harbor, a religious employer must not cover — or have recently covered — services it now wants to be exempt from covering. Duncan didn’t explain this on the call, but in paragraph 120 of Wheaton’s legal complaint (.pdf), you find this: “They currently provide coverage for certain contraceptives and inadvertently provided coverage for a short period after February 10, 2012 for other now-excluded contraceptives, making it impossible for Wheaton to make the required Safe Harbor certification.”

Sounds like Wheaton was paying for emergency contraception coverage for its employees — for how short a period it doesn’t say.

That brings us right up against the moral reasoning for Wheaton's thus far abortive legal action. When President Philip Ryken rejected the Obama administration's proposed accommodation exempting religious employers from paying for contraception coverage, while allowing employees to receive the coverage separately from the insurer, he said, “Any accommodation that still involves us in connection with an insurer that provides abortion services still, though indirectly, nevertheless implicates us morally in that action.”

But Wheaton's insurance coverage history apparently doesn't rise to that standard.

Gallico dug out the current source of Wheaton's coverage for faculty and staff and It's Blue Cross/BlueShield of Illinois:

And while Blue Cross pays for emergency contraception for thousands of enrollees who don’t work for Wheaton, it also covers an actual abortion drug — Mifeprex — which, the drug maker’s website points out, Blue Cross covers “to the same extent as surgical abortions.”

None of that fits neatly into the Southern Baptist narrative of Wheaton et al heroically resisting reduction of their freedom (although they are actually attacking their employees' freedom to make those decisions) of religion, but it still deserves to be reported.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Half a century since prescient Catholic clerical abuse warning

Half a century ago, Gerald Michael Cushing Fitzgerald, the Catholic priest who co-founded the Congregation of the Society of the Paraclete, informed the Holy See of sweeping clerical sex abuse problems in the U.S. and recommended a solution:

...a more distinct teaching in the last years of the seminary of the heavy penalty involved in tampering with the innocence (or even non-innocence) of little ones." Regarding priests who have "fallen into repeated sins ... and most especially the abuse of children, we feel strongly that such unfortunate priests should be given the alternative of a retired life within the protection of monastery walls or complete laicization.

Fitzgerald's view of abusers was as relentless as the malady they suffer. In a letter to Archbishop James Byrne, his ecclesiastical sponsor and co-founder of the Paracletes, Fitzgerald wrote:

May I beg your excellency to concur and approve of what I consider a very vital decision on our part - that we will not offer hospitality to men who have seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls. These men Your Excellency are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishops I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization....It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat - but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle master said - it were better they had not been born - this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not?

Catholic clergy abuse crisis expert Patrick J. Wall explains that "The Holy See reacted to Father Fitzgerald’s warnings in line with tradition: The report was filed away in the Holy See’s Secret Archives and with no action."

So we have this week Kansas City priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, pleading guilty to five child pornography charges. The incidents were relatively recent (not decades ago) and Ratigan likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

His bishop, Robert Finn, faces trial on Sept. 24 for failing to properly report the suspected abuse when he learned of it.

That will not be the first prosecution of a ranking church official.

Two weeks ago, Catholic Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison for his role in covering the sex abuse of predatory priests.

While in Australia the pattern of unspooling revelation repeats itself. And church concern about scandal and cost apparently continues to outweigh concern about the victims.

How the Biblical Recorder helped fry Chick-fil-A

The North Carolina Biblical Recorder almost made itself Chick-fil-A central.

It began quietly on July 2 with publication of a puff piece by Recorder Editor Allan Blume about Chick-fil-A chief operating author Dan Cathy, which said in part:

"We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. ... We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized. "We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."[22]

The Biblical Recorder's online presence is small (comparable to Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson's one-man blog), and the article attracted little attention.

On the same day, the watchdog group Equality Matters published an article detailing donation of almost $2 million to anti-gay groups by the WinShape Foundation, Chick-fil-A's charitable arm. Specifically:

  • Marriage & Family Foundation: $1,188,380
  • Fellowship Of Christian Athletes: $480,000
  • National Christian Foundation: $247,500
  • New Mexico Christian Foundation: $54,000 
  • Exodus International: $1,000
  • Family Research Council: $1,000
  • Georgia Family Council: $2,500

The Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Press reposted the Biblical Recorder story on July 16. The Baptist Press has a more significant Web readership, and the issues raised by the article began attracting considerable attention. The Biblical Recorder began publishing almost every Baptist Press article on the subject, thus vigorously promoting Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and failing to enlighten its readers about the true sources of the anger directed at Chick-fil-A.

Apart from a contrived argument (overlooking the Equality Matters material and more inflammatory Cathy statements on June 16) that the original story had been "distorted" by mainstream media, the Recorder appears to have taken no actual editorial position of its own.

Fortunately, immediate past editor of the Biblical Recorder Norman Jameson took one on twitter:

Exactly. Southern contrived chicken. Unenlightening, even if it did produce record one-day profits for Chick-fil-A.